A Winter Visit

A Winter Visit

It was the first time we have heard from my uncle Pauly in months. It was a normal Saturday afternoon in early February. I was outside helping my father shovel snow. Something about the stiff overcast and the still, cold air that let the snow fall silently and unmolested was unsettling.

After about twenty minutes of lifting the heavy and compact snow I stopped, stood up straight in a stretching kind of way and lit a smoke.

“Come on dude,” my father said breathing heavily with his eyebrows strategically scrunched upon his face, “I wanna get this shit done so we can go inside.”

“Yo man, I’m taking a break. This shit is heavy.” I rebelled.

As I took a drag of my cigarette, I stood there, arched my back to loosen the knot in it, and let out a long exhale of smoke mixing it with the stiff, frosty air.

            “Come on ya big fuckin’ baby.” He said with a giggle blanketed by demanding sarcasm.

            “Yea, yea, yea.” I flicked my smoke and watched it disappear into the snow.

            My mother was inside cooking breakfast like a fanatic. The air in the house was filled with the smell of eggs, bacon, sausage, and diced white potatoes with onion while the Patsy Cline CD I got her for her birthday was playing on the countertop stereo.

“Blue moon of Kentucky, keep on shinin’, shine on the one that’s gone and left me blue.” She sang aloud as she shuffled her slippers against the kitchen floor.

The kitchen was rather small, but she danced around it like it was a grand ballroom. Shuffling left, shuffling right.

While outside, I could hear the faint ringing of the house phone. It rang four times before my mother answered it. She sat her spatula down on the stove after pushing the potatoes around one more time and wiped her hands before picking up.

            “Hello!” She said enthusiastically.

            “Good morning!” The man on the other end said in a raspy voice. “May I please speak with ummmm”, he paused as if he forgot who he was calling and cleared his throat. “Samantha.”

            “This is she.” She said curiously.

            “Hi, this is the Coroner’s Office of the City of Philadelphia. We have found an unidentified male in an abandoned building on Tasker Avenue here in the city and believe it to be a possible relative of yours.”

My mother seemed to go from curious to frightened of what the man might say next as her heart sank down to her stomach.

            “Do you know a Paul DeSimone Jr.?”

            “Yea, that’s my brother. Is he ok?” She demanded anxiously.

            “I’m sorry Samantha but he”, he paused and cleared his throat again, “is deceased.”

            The color flushed from her face immediately as her eyes began to flood with both sadness and shame.

            “We need you, if possible, to come and give a positive I.D. of the body.”

            “Ok.” She said, bowing her head as she let out a stiff sniffle.

            “Thank you, Samantha. When would you be available?”

            “Tomorrow, I guess once the roads are clear.”      

            “Ok, thanks again.”

She slowly hung up the phone and wiped her eyes with her sleeve. “Fuck!” she whispered to herself as she let out a long, breathy sigh.

            I scooped up a heavy shovel full of snow and tossed it toward the street. As I turned to scoop another, I noticed my mother standing and sulking in the frame of the screened door on the porch wearing a t-shirt and pajama pants. She opened the door and stepped outside as if the news she just received numbed her enough to reject the cold for it seemed to have little effect. She looked sad and vulnerable. By the look on her face, distraught and confused, I knew she wasn’t coming to announce breakfast was ready.

            “What’s up, ma?” I asked. “You look like you seen a ghost.”

            She started to explain the news and did so with such confidence until she murmured the word dead. She broke down crying forcefully as she mumbled to herself between her saddened exhales. The snow kept falling heavily, unsympathetic of her loss.

            I put my hand on her back and helped her inside and out of the cold. I knew she was cold, I could see it in her face but she was too upset to feel it. When we entered the house I could smell that breakfast was overcooked. I sat her down at the dining room table and went to get her a glass of water and some tissues. She was still ranting as I left the room. As I went into the kitchen the pilots to the stove were still burning, reducing the bacon to nothing but fossilized jerky and the chopped onion in the potatoes looked like wood chips. I turned them off scraped the remnants into the trashcan. Patsy Cline was still on the stereo, although the CD was skipping. “Cr-cr-cr-cr-crazy, crazy for feeling so lo-lo-lo-lonely.” I turned it off and headed back into the dining room with a handful of tissues.

My mother was sitting at the dining room table. She looked up at me with her eyes moist and bloodshot. “Two down, one to go.” She said with angered sarcasm. I knew what she meant so I stood there silently. Two siblings had gone, one to go. Her younger sister, the youngest of the four, died a few years back. She was only 35 and now her brother at 45. I felt bad for her but she was strong and handled everything relatively well.

            Morning came and the streets were not necessarily clear but a lot better than yesterday. I drove because my mother hates driving in the city on top of her being up all night staring at the stucco ceiling wondering whether it was really my uncle she would find at the coroner’s office or not.

            When we arrived, we walked in the front door. The stale smell of dread and abandonment was eerily intoxicating. The woman who greeted us from the receptionist desk in the lobby seemed too chipper for my liking considering the circumstances and her place of employment. Who wants to be a secretary at a place like this? It’s like a halfway house for the deceased and forgotten. I guess you can’t blame her for trying to lighten the mood. We were seated in the waiting room with a few other somber looking people waiting to be emotionally fucked, which connected to what seemed like an eternal hallway. With me seated directly across from it, I felt like I was sitting across from the grumpy esophagus of some evil serpent ready to pounce. I thought about how many other visitors wandered down this exact hall with the same objectives as us, overpowered by the obese weight of anxiety, hoping that the person they are there to identify turns out to be someone else. Furthermore, if it did turn out to be a false identification, the fretfulness and fear they must have felt wondering where their supposed vanished friend or family member actually is. Are they dead, alive, homeless, maybe hit the lottery and skipped town? Who knows!

            The doctor, I guess, or proprietor of the dead, with his white jacket down to his shins came in and asked us to come and take a look. I found it rather brisk and impersonal but I guess you can’t blame him.

            “Is it really him? Are you sure?” My mother asked rhetorically, knowing the reason we were here was to make that judgment.

            “That’s why you are here Miss.” He said with minimal amusement.

            My mother reluctantly stood up from her chair, removed her scarf and grasped it tightly in her hand. It was our turn to make that trip down that morbid, dim hallway. We walked what seemed like miles down the corridor, watching doors opening and shut. I couldn’t help but glance into a few rooms on the way. There was one particular room where the door was slightly ajar and I could see a woman standing there with her face buried in her hands. Her shoulders jumped rapidly up and down in which I knew it was a positive identification. I could almost feel the horror in her cry. In front of her was an object covered with a white sheet, lying flat on a table like an old piece of furniture or maybe a surprise feast waiting to be uncovered. Another lost loved one.

Moving on, I began to fear what kind of episode would evolve from our visit inside one of these rooms. We finally reached room 112 where supposedly my uncle resided for the moment. I felt an urge to turn around and flee back down the miles of corridor to the seating area but my mother slowly pushed the door open as if she were afraid to interrupt something and cautiously entered the room. Two steps in; she stopped abruptly, started fidgeting, and stared at the blanketed individual. The room was bitterly quiet. She approached it as if she was approaching the edge of a cliff. She removed the blanket slowly as if she were expecting a friendly game of peek-a-boo as I stood behind her, refusing to look until I heard any kind of reaction. She paused for a moment after uncovering the figure, took two steps back and softly started crying. I knew it was him. I decided I might as well take a look and see for myself. I slid forward, shuffled my shoes a bit, and saw my uncle lying there. His face was expressionless, unwashed and he looked cold. I stared into his eyes, for they were still open as if looking for something although he was gone. However, I felt like he could still see us. The whites of his eyes were a pale yellow yet they were piercing as they still displayed that artic blue hue. His facial hair, black and unattended to, made his complexion seem transparent.

            My uncle was a tall man at six feet, two inches who had a stocky build and liked to get higher than the brim of William Penn’s hat atop city hall. He always tried to convince me he could outlast Mike Tyson in a twelve round boxing match. I was always skeptical but I never doubted him. The longer I stood there watching him, motionless, and realizing he was no more, I silently asked him a question.

            “If you were tough enough to take on Mike Tyson, then why did you lose to addiction?”

            He never replied.

 © minusthetown 2014

Existence ?

Trees only seem to exist in the country,
A country I have yet to explore,
With thorough curiosity and imagination.

Pigeons only seem to exist in the city,
Molds of more beautiful, distinctive species,
Poised to be different yet all take flight.

Ghosts only seem to exist in cinema,
Yet persons are all haunted,
Unmelodious, unhealthy, desperate.

Fiction only seems to exist in literature,
Yet lies taint reality with guilt and disgust,
Personal revolutions, sworn to silence.

Glass only seems to exist as houses,
Refrain from throwing stones,
But by all means, continue pulling triggers.

Seoul only seems to exist in Korea,
Yet many sell theirs for lesser things,
While shoes wear thin.

Animals only seem to exist in zoos,
Yet roam freely among us,
Two-legged ferocity, dictating humanity.

Trash only seems to exist as waste,
Another man’s treasure,
Great find’s, still impoverished.

Walls only seem to exist as structures,
Sheltering every soul from truth,
Fear and loathing, erected like square penises.

Exits only seem to exist as ways out,
Single file, everyone crowds,
Dispersing to different locales.

Words only seem to exist in language,
Cultures will hurt, few may kill,
Illiterate, yet beliefs roll off the tongue freely.

Dreams only seem to exist in sleep,
A child’s wish, another goal,
Imaginative thoughts faced with blunt reality.

Happiness only seems to exist in fairy tales,
Discounted by many, as haggling decreases value,
Ever after who? Ever after what?

© minusthetown 2013

A Couple (Brunch Date)

Dialogue weakened with blank stares,

Interrogate, interrogate, interrogate,

Cross examining one another.

Cross your eyes, dot her tease,

Smile and be fooled.

Splinters reach from creaking floors,

Pulling toward sunshine spilling into undressed windows.

Aging, natural light elongates her profile,

As natural light simply ages him.

Translucent, semi-intrigued,

Each patient with the sluggishly passing time.

The table is occupied, but no one is there,

Personalities clash like insecure adolescents.

Words are lost like ancient, Biblical script,

Partially mumbled, mostly unspoken,

Restrictive in language, yet hopeful to please.

© minusthetown 2013

3rd Avenue L

Set on the platform of New York City’s L subway line. Passerby 1 is a young, semi-wealthy professional on his way home from a day’s work. Troubadour is a poor, frustrated man, playing music for the afternoon commuters.

Enter PASSERBY 1 as TROUBADOUR is playing his guitar.

TROUBADOUR:      (Singing melodically) Welcome to the Hotel California… Were livin’ it up at the Hotel California…

PASSERBY 1:           (nods and flashes a smile toward TROUBADOUR while making his way across the subway platform) Sounds good man. Keep it up.

TROUBADOUR:      (abruptly stops playing his guitar and stands up shouting) Hey! Hey! Don’t gimme that fake fuckin’ smile. That ain’t gonna buy me lunch, man.

ANNOUNCEMENT: The next Brooklyn bound L train will depart in approximately 6 minutes.

PASSERBY 1:           (looks around confused and shocked by the reaction from TROUBADOUR) What? Finish your song, dude. Just tryin’ to be nice.

TROUBADOUR:      (irritated and angered) Yea, well that fake smile shit makes you look like an idiot. You do it to make yourself feel less guilty. Ya wanna be nice? Throw me a goddamn quarter or whatever to help me feed myself. Not walk by and flash some stupid fuckin’ grin at me to make yourself feel like a better person.

PASSERBY 1:           (stares at TROUBADOUR in confusion with a crooked grin) Dude, what’s your problem? I don’t have time to stand here and argue with you over a smile.

TROUBADOUR:      You just heard the announcement. You got 6 minutes jerk-off. I hate people like you. You got everything but respect for the lesser people.

                                    More commuters shuffle along the subway platform.

ANNOUNCEMENT: The next Brooklyn bound L train will depart in approximately 4 minutes.

PASSERBY 1:           (becoming annoyed and agitated) Christ, I gotta listen to this shit for another 4 minutes.

PASSERBY 2:           (tries to lighten the mood and walks up to TROUBADOUR) Come on, keep playin’. Screw that guy, dude.

TROUBADOUR:      (speaks loudly as voice cracks with frustration and anger) Play for what, my health? Food and water help my health. Not fake ass, rich boy grins.

                                    Long pause as TROUBADOUR stares at PASSERBY 1 waiting for a response. PASSERBY 1 stares out at the subway tracks.

PASSERBY 1:           (lets out a long sigh then turns to TROUBADOUR) Let it go man, for Christ sakes. Just settle the hell down and shut up. Play your goddamn songs and leave me alone.

ANNOUNCEMENT: The next Brooklyn Bound L train will depart in approximately 2 minutes.

TROUBADOUR:      I’m not gonna play for you dickhead. I can wait.

PASSERBY 1:           (Fishes around in his pockets looking for something) So be it then.   (Turns and looks at TROUBADOUR with a crooked grin, takes a dollar out of his pocket, crumbles it up, and tosses it on the subway tracks)

PASSERBY 3:           (shaking his head in slight amusement) That was fucked up, man.

TROUBADOUR:      (takes a few quick strides toward PASSERBY 1 disgusted and enraged) Yea, nice asshole. Real fuckin’ nice. Must feel real good to lay in bed at night, nice and warm, knowing that you’re a complete fuckin’ scumbag, huh?

                                    PASSERBY 1 and TROUBADOUR pause and stare at each other for a few moments. People continue to shuffle by.

ANNOUNCEMENT: The next L train is now arriving on the Brooklyn bound track.

PASSERBY 1:           About time! Good luck, douche-bag. (steps on the train and sarcastically waves at TROUBADOUR)

TROUBADOUR:      Prick. (Refocuses himself, sits down and starts playing his guitar while singing) On a dark desert highway…

© minusthetown 2013

April Showers

Clouds fall like weightless entities,

Covering the city like cobwebs,

Spun by the Mother herself,

With runs in her stockings,

And unaltered, gray hair,

A haunted whore, perhaps.

Rain beats against the deserted sidewalks,

Like angry marching bands,

Fighting for melodic superiority,

Rhythm no one will hear or take part in.

Street corners become deltas,

Cars hydroplane along the wet avenues,

Listen closely, Close your eyes,

It sounds like the ocean, drunken with fury.

Everyone takes cover but me,

I happen to like the ocean.

Cabs are rushed upon like embassies revolted against,

A pride-less feeding, like chum in the water.

Sometimes it rains, sometimes it pours,

I stand, buoyed by reality, drenched and understanding.

© minusthetown 2013